Want Happiness? Buy Experiences, Not Things, Says a Cornell Psychologist
Studies confirm that having experiences makes us happier than material possessions.
Happiness can mean very different things to different people. How to achieve it is a lifelong question for most of us. Our religions and politics offer their own prescriptions. But what does science have to say about it?
Psychology Professor Thomas Gilovich from Cornell University has made four studies on the subject over decades and came to the conclusion that happiness is derived from experiences, not things.
In particular, Gilovich focused on the purchases people make, comparing how they felt spending money on material posessions versus experiential purchases. He found that people were ultimately much happier as a result of experiences.
"People often think spending money on an experience is not as wise an investment as spending it on a material possession," explained Gilovich. "They think the experience will come and go in a flash, and they'll be left with little compared to owning an item. But in reality we remember experiences long afterward, while we soon become used to our possessions. At the same time, we also enjoy the anticipation of having an experience more than the anticipation of owning a possession."
In fact, the anticipation of an experience can be much more pleasurable than waiting for a material possession. You can be excited about getting a new car but unless you're a real gearhead, chances are you are more excited about the places you can go in that car and the way people will look at you being in that car.
Gilovich's 2014 study found that experiences are the glue of our social lives, mattering much more than the latest i-gadget because:
- Experiential purchases enhance social relations more readily and effectively than material goods
- Experiential purchases form a bigger part of a person's identity
- Experiential purchases are evaluated more on their own terms and evoke fewer social comparisons than material purchases.
Why do material posessions not give us so much joy?
"One of the enemies of happiness is adaptation. We buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them."
A 2012 study by Gilovich described how people tend to have more regrets over inaction for experiences than for posessions. You regret more not going to a concert with friends than not buying a new table.
One big reason for why experiences matter more to us than material objects is that they are inherently social. You usually have an experience with friends or family. That makes them so much more valuable. Experiences also commonly result in storytelling and conversation and, certainly, countless Facebook posts of your vacations photos.
As Amit Kumar, a graduate student who worked with Gilovich said to the Atlantic:
"Turns out people don't like hearing about other people's possessions very much, but they do like hearing about that time you saw Vampire Weekend."
Experiences also reflect more of who we really are. They are closer to our inner selves as we are, according to Gilovich, "the sum total of all our experiences." And as such, when they are shared, experiences allow us to get closer to others in a way impossible with inanimate objects that we can buy.
As we march forward as a society, collectively pursuing happiness, it would make sense for us to consider what that happiness can be. A society that works more and more hours and has less time for leisure and experiences, is not likely to be happy.
Time to hit the road and do something memorable?
Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.
One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.
Nazi supporters held huge rallies and summer camps for kids throughout the United States in the 1930s.
- During the 1930s, thousands of Americans sympathized with the Nazis, holding huge rallies.
- The rallies were organized by the American German Bund, which wanted to spread Nazi ideology.
- Nazi supporters also organized summer camps for kids to teach them their values.
A Bund parade in New York, October 30, 1939.
Credit: Library of Congress
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Tea and coffee have known health benefits, but now we know they can work together.
Credit: NIKOLAY OSMACHKO from Pexels
- A new study finds drinking large amounts of coffee and tea lowers the risk of death in some adults by nearly two thirds.
- This is the first study to suggest the known benefits of these drinks are additive.
- The findings are great, but only directly apply to certain people.